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Why Are Elephants Getting Electrocuted in India?

Illegal electric fences on farms are a serious threat to the endangered animal

In May this year, a disturbing wildlife video from India began circulating on the Internet. It showed a dead elephant being carted off for an autopsy in a village in West Bengal in eastern India. The elephant had collapsed on a paddy field after reportedly coming in contact with an illegal electric fence. A crane truck awkwardly dragged the elephant upside down along a dirt road and a small crowd followed, taking pictures on cell phones. Burn marks were clearly visible on the elephant’s trunk.  

Asiatic elephant in the woodsPhoto by Bikash Das An endangered Asiatic elephant at the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, India. There are stringent laws protecting India’s “heritage” animal, but convictions for electrocutions are rare.

Wild elephants are electrocuted with startling regularity in India. According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, there was a sharp uptick in 2016 with 43 elephants killed accidentally by damaged power lines or intentionally by illegal electric fences. In the southern state of Karnataka there were ten deaths in the last three six months alone. Karnataka is one of the states where electrocutions have overtaken poaching as a leading cause of unnatural death among elephants. “Every alternate day you hear about an electrocution case,” said K. Vijay, a conservationist with the Ooty-based Nilgiri Wildlife & Environment Association, shortly after a mother and two calves were killed by a fence on a coconut farm in neighboring Tamil Nadu earlier this year.  

Asian elephants are an endangered species.  But not everyone views them in that light. For some farmers, elephants are a menace because they can demolish a crop within a matter of hours. Wealthy landowners protect their harvest with power fences equipped with transformers that deliver a safe buzz of electricity to deter the animal. But small farmers who can’t afford commercial fences tend to improvise. A “homemade” electric fence is often just a single wire strung out on the periphery of a farm illegally connected to an overhead power line. Because they lack a transformer, illegal fences deliver a full blast of 220 volts of alternating current, strong enough to fell an elephant on the spot.  

On paper, there are stringent laws protecting India’s “heritage” animal. Under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, killing an elephant carries a prison sentence up to seven years. But in reality, the system is prone to “influence,” according to one conservationist. A conviction in …more

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Climate Change Is the Story You Missed in 2017, and the Media Is to Blame

Some of Trump’s tweets have generated more national coverage than devastating disasters

Which story did you hear more about this year — how climate change makes disasters like hurricanes worse, or how Donald Trump threw paper towels at Puerto Ricans?

 photo of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Micallef/US Coast Guard A Coast Guard member deployed to Borinquen, Puerto Rico delivers water in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. President Trump's response to the hurricane garnered more press than the link between climate change and extreme weather events.

If you answered the latter, you have plenty of company. Academic Jennifer Good analyzed two weeks of hurricane coverage during the height of hurricane season on eight major TV networks, and found that about 60 percent of the stories included the word Trump, and only about 5 percent mentioned climate change.

Trump doesn’t just suck the oxygen out of the room; he sucks the carbon dioxide out of the national dialogue. Even in a year when we’ve had string of hurricanes, heatwaves, and wildfires worthy of the Book of Revelation — just what climate scientists have told us to expect — the effect of climate change on extreme weather has been dramatically undercovered. Some of Trump’s tweets generate more national coverage than devastating disasters.

Good’s analysis lines up with research done by my organization, Media Matters for America, which found that TV news outlets gave far too little coverage to the well-documented links between climate change and hurricanes. ABC and NBC both completely failed to bring up climate change during their news coverage of Harvey, a storm that caused the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in the continental US. When Irma hit soon after, breaking the record for hurricane intensity, ABC didn’t do much better.

Coverage was even worse of Hurricane Maria, the third hurricane to make landfall in the US this year. Not only did media outlets largely fail to cover the climate connection; in many cases, they largely failed to cover the hurricane itself.

The weekend after Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, the five major Sunday political talkshows devoted less than one minute in total …more

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The Attack on Bears Ears National Monument

In the face of Trump's gleeful dismantling of our public lands, let the resistance continue to build

To stand with a Native American friend of 40 years at the site of a desecrated ancestral grave can be a transcendent and disorienting experience. Quiet grief. No words. Very different for me than for him.

For many of us, ten months of day-in-and-day-out whiplash, the feeling of reeling with every newscast, has been deeply depressing. But Monday was different. It was a punch in the gut. President Trump’s slash and burn dismantling of Bears Ears National Monument — from 1.35 million to 200,000 acres — and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — from 1.9 to 1 million acres — was a gleeful attack on nature, five tribes, Obama, and the environmental community. A sickening scene played out in Utah’s State capitol, right down to making Mick Jagger sing “You can’t always get what you want…” at the close of a garish and surreal ceremony.

photo of bears ears national monumentphoto by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management The 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah protects one of most significant cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and important areas of spiritual significance.

We can hope the courts will overturn Trump’s ecocidal, law-flouting actions and that judges will unanimously agree with the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Ute, and Ute Mountain Tribes, and with the Native American Rights Fund, Earthjustice, Patagonia, REI, and everyone else who is suing the bastards. But this thinly veiled move to open the door to oil, gas, coal, uranium, fracking, and all other manner of industrial invasion of what’s left of our wild public lands reveals what Trump and Zinke and their corporate sponsors are after, and how brazenly they will go about their dirty work.

If you are willing to feel carsick, I recommend you watch Trump’s speech. It’s a piece of work. “Wonder and wealth…” — we can have both!

No mention of coal stripmines or motorized all-terrain boytoys or bullet holes in ancient, priceless petroglyph panels.

I know many of us feel that our decades of work in the name of social and environmental justice are being vandalized by a reactionary patriarchy founded, at least in this country, on an imagined racial and religious superiority. Too true. I know for each of us there are certain days when the destruction feels closest to home, personal. I guess that’s the case for me here. President Obama’s recognition of a sacred cultural landscape to …more

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In Photos: Clean Water Initiative Makes Strides in Uganda

Water filter project improving health, supporting women’s leadership, and safeguarding environment

Photos by Joel Lukhovi | Survival Media Agency

Most people in the district of Gomba, Uganda, don’t have access to clean water. About 50 kids under 5 years old die every month from diarrhea and typhoid, both of which are connected to consumption of contaminated water. The women of the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative — a partner of Earth Island Institute's Global Women's Water Initiative — recognized that there was a big public health problem, and decided to tackle it.

photo of biosand filtersPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency Najjuma Mary and Annette Nakamya pour water into a biosand filter, which is filled with differently textured layers of sand and stones that strain harmful bacteria out of the water. Thanks to the initial project, more than 45 women have learned how to construct the filters in their own households.

In June 2014, the group used a $2,500 grant from Global Greengrants Fund to build 12 biosand water filters in two Gomba elementary and secondary schools to purify kids’ drinking water. Ten mothers and grandmothers participated in building the filters, which effectively remove bacteria by percolating water through various layers of sand and gravel. Although none had ever held a shovel, each was willing to break traditional stereotypes about the type of work done by women and activate for change.

Fast forward to today: The 12 water filters have been installed, and the women say their kids no longer suffer from diarrhea. School absenteeism has dropped by nearly two-thirds now that children aren’t getting sick as frequently, and the women report saving money they used to spend on hospital visits to pay school fees and feed their kids a balanced diet. 

Today almost 800 children have access to clean water; 45 women have been trained on how to build biosand filters in their schools and homes. And Betty Birungi, one of the women who participated in the project, was elected to local government, where she continues to advocate for clean water.

Godliver Busingi of the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative also notes the project’s environmental benefits: “Gomba does not have forests, but the trees we do have get cut for firewood and charcoal. Using firewood every day to boil water for a school with 260 pupils is not sustainable at all. The schools are a big consumer of firewood, and so having the biosand filters helps us keep our trees. If we preserve the trees, our environment wins."

To learn more about the …more

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Majority of US Public Against Drilling in ANWR

Oil experts think economics are “suspect”

Republicans may be celebrating their great tax rip off they sneaked through last Friday night, which included the hugely disputed proposal of drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but opening up America’s last true wilderness to oil exploitation is still far from certain.

Caribou in ANWRPhoto by USFWSCaribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop.

Firstly, drilling in ANWR is deeply unpopular with the American public; secondly, it still has to get past the House, where some Republicans are opposed to opening up ANWR; thirdly, even oil industry consultants think drilling now is not economically sensible and fourthly any development will be fought tooth and nail in the courts.

All this means that any drilling is not going to happen any time soon. It is worth remembering that pro-drilling Republicans have tried over fifty times to drill in ANWR already and they have failed.

Firstly, the American public are vehemently against the idea

Yesterday, Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication released a new survey that found that 70 percent of voters oppose drilling in the refuge. Those strongly opposed outnumber those who strongly support the policy by more than 4 to 1. Despite the gleeful scenes late on Friday night by the Republican leadership, a mere 18% of Republican voters “strongly support” the policy.

Secondly, the first hurdle any bill would have to overcome would be the House

Before the Senate vote, 12 Congressional Republicans sent a letter to the leaders of both houses of Congress, objecting the provision which would allow ANWR.

They wrote, in part: “Since the Refuge was originally set aside for the protection in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike have stood together to protect this unparalleled landscape.”

They continued: “For decades, Congress has voted to prohibit oil and gas development in the refuge, with the overwhelming support of the American public. Support for this protection remains strong today. After years of debate, the Arctic refuge stands as a symbol of our nation’s strong and enduring natural legacy.”

If Congress opened up the area to drilling, they warn, “the likelihood that lawsuits would accompany any development is high.”

Since the vote, some Republicans have gone public. Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo is one of those who signed the letter and who is co-founder of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bi-partisan group working to address climate change.

His spokesperson, …more

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European Parliament Takes a Stand on Indigenous Rights in Latin America

New group could help put pressure on Brazilian government to protect rights of Indigenous Peoples

Tribal chief Marcos Verón grew up in flourishing rainforest in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul region. His would be one of the last generations of Indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá peoples to practice their cultural, spiritual, and subsistence lifeways in the resource- and species- rich Amazonian forest that had shaped them. Their thousands-of-years-old culture abruptly collapsed in 1953, wiped out by a rich Brazilian who bulldozed their homelands and cast their people out to make way for a vast cattle ranch.

photo of Guarani-Kaiowá protestPhoto courtesy of CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council) The Guarani-Kaiowá gather in protest of an attack in Caarapó, Brazil in 2016.

The Guarani-Kaiowá now struggle to survive on the fringes of a society that scorns them. Their homes are plastic tarps that line the side of a highway. They are plagued with malnutrition. At least 53 of their children have starved to death in the last dozen years. Their suicide rate, 232 per 100,000 people, is the highest in the world, according to a 2014 study. Most victims are between 15 and 30 years old. One Guarani man told Survival International, “There’s no future, there’s no respect, there are no jobs, and there is no land where we can plant and live. They choose to die because actually, they are already dead inside.”

Verón gave his life trying to help his Guarani-Kaiowá peoples — he was allegedly beaten to death by employees of the rancher in 2003, though three men were acquitted of homicide in the case in 2011. His was one of the first deaths — it’s estimated that roughly 400 Guarani-Kaiowá have been murdered for peacefully protesting and trying to reclaim their ancestral land.

It’s a situation that’s worsened with the election of Brazilian President Michel Temer, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples said. Last year, she issued a statement censuring the Brazilian government for its treatment of the Guarani-Kaiowá, and Indigenous Peoples throughout Brazil.

More recently, the European Parliament (EP) has also taken an active role in standing up for rights of Indigenous Peoples. Earlier this month they launched the ‘EP Friendship Group for Indigenous Peoples of Latin America.’ Their action follows a fact-finding mission to Brazil last year organized by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), political groups, and high-level officials.

The mission was confronted with heart-breaking stories of murders and disappearances of Indigenous leaders, and the extreme …more

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Transforming Trash into Treasure

Brazilian institute helps chefs fuel their kitchens with their own trash

In 2010, journalist Fernanda Danelon was working at a publishing company and was involved in awarding people who were transforming their realities. At the time, she had the chance to meet Ana Maria Primavesi, an award-winning Austrian agronomist, based in Brazil. Her meeting with the academic, the head of important publications on the health of the soil and organic agriculture, inspired big changes in Danelon’s personal and professional life. “Some ideas were already germinating in my mind, like economist Ladislaw Dowbor’s thinking about the transition from a consumer society to a society of knowledge. After that meeting with Primavesi, I realized there is a relationship between trash and food production in the big cities, and it is one of the greatest challenges of our time,” she says.

photo of compostPhoto courtesy of Instituto GuanduA bed of herbs grows on composted soil.

Resolved to change the course of her life, Danelon left her work at the publishing company and went on to seek new ways of deepening her knowledge about food production, networking with the group Hortelões Urbanos (Urban Gardeners), which today is made up of more than 60,000 members (at the time there were only 500) and which was the source of inspiration for new business models — that were fairer, more proactive, and sustainable. But the real turning point would come in 2013: São Paulo was undergoing radical changes coming from public groups demanding Zero Fare public transport and a redefinition of urban space, and demonstrations and police violence dominated the streets and news headlines. “In October, I launched the Guandu Institute,” she recalls.

Reusing resources

Based on the concept “From Plate to Plate,” the Institute offers environmental solutions for large restaurants and seeks to inspire restoring the planet’s health. How? By composting organic trash, food preparation excess, and leftovers, which go to landfills. Composting doesn’t only help to diminish the volume in landfills — which are high pollutants of soil and ground waters and a contributor to global warming due to the enormous quantity of methane gas emitted into the atmosphere — but it also produces fertilizer, such a fundamental resource for food production. Transformed into agricultural material thanks to the precious work of worms, the fertilizer completes the cycle that leaves the plate as excess and returns to the plate as food, which Danelon supplies to her clients in little jars of thyme, parsley, cilantro, and cherry tomatoes, among a dozen other ingredients she cultivates herself at the garden …more

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